Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2020
Joe Biden is trying to build bridges to Latino voters, but the coronavirus crisis is getting in the way.
Early in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden lost the Latino vote to rival Sen. Bernie Sanders in many states, and had just begun to reverse that trend when the coronavirus crisis froze the campaign in place.
A new poll suggests that, in the shadow of the public health emergency, Latino support for Biden is softening and their interest in the election is waning.
The survey released Friday by Latino Decisions, a Democratic firm, found that 59% of Latino registered voters supported Biden or were leaning toward him, while 22% favored Trump — a lead for Biden that is narrower than the 67%-22% margin he scored in a mid-February survey by the same firm.
Latinos voters, who could be crucial in such battleground states as Arizona, Nevada and Florida, will be the largest minority voting bloc in 2020 for the first time.
Biden’s relations with the Latino community have been strained, in part, because of criticism and anger at the aggressive deportation policies of the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president.
While most Latino voters are opposed to Trump and infuriated by his anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, the new poll provides a warning that it may not translate into the high turnout Democrats need to win in the fall: Just 60% of Latinos said they were certain to vote in November, compared with 73% in the February survey.
But his inability to get his message out could hurt him most among Latinos, who tend to be younger, less familiar with Biden and more likely to have supported Sanders than other voting blocs.
Even though Trump has overseen a far more draconian immigration policy, Biden’s relationship with Latinos has been strained because of the Obama administration’s record of deporting nearly 3 million people who were in the U.S. illegally. Obama was tagged “deporter-in-chief” by his critics.
Biden was confronted with protesters at rallies last year and two Democratic debates were interrupted over the issue. He angrily responded to one protester, “You should vote for Trump.”
Biden eventually repudiated the Obama policy as a “big mistake” a week before Nevada’s caucuses on Feb. 22 and promised to impose a moratorium on deportations in the first 100 days of his administration if he is elected.
“Vice President Biden has a lot of work to do to regain the trust of the Latino community and to increase enthusiasm among the electorate,” said Cristina Jiménez, executive director of United We Dream Action, an immigrant-rights group that endorsed Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Jiménez and other activists said that Biden should embrace the model for organizing Latino voters that brought Sanders success in many Democratic primaries — a major investment in Latino campaign staff, Spanish-language communications and grassroots outreach.
One potential source of help: Chuck Rocha, who oversaw the Sanders Latino outreach strategy, has established a new Super PAC to mobilize Latino voters to vote for Biden and other Democrats, especially in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Rocha aims to raise and spend $22 million on television, cable and digital ads to push anti-Trump messages into the Latino community.
Making do in virtual space, the Biden campaign is holding ‘’Todos con Biden” conference calls with Latino supporters every two weeks. They are trying to book more appearances for Biden on media outlets that reach black and brown audiences, and to keep the campaign message on their economic and health concerns.